Using Symbols in Adobe Illustrator

Using Symbols in Adobe Illustrator

When we think of symbols, we think of the "@" sign. We do not tend to think of objects. However, in Illustrator that is exactly what symbols are. Let us say that you drew a flower in Illustrator. You are going to use that flower to decorate a field that you drew also. You can turn that flower into a symbol and use it repeatedly, quickly and easily. It is kind of like a stamp in Photoshop, if you are familiar with that at all.

Let us learn how symbols work, and how to create them.

Create Symbols in the Symbol Panel

All you do is open the Symbols panel, and then drag the symbol that you want into your document.

However, you can also create symbols.

If you are using an object often, you should turn it into a symbol that will be stored in the symbol panel.

Let us learn to create a symbol using our bear that we drew in Illustrator.

We have grouped all the objects together that we used to draw this bear.

Now, go to the Symbol panel by going to Window>Symbols.

Select your object, and then click New Symbol in the Symbols panel.

Select a name for the symbol and the type, either movie clip or graphic.

Select your options.

Click OK when you are finished.

As you can see, our bear is now a symbol.

To place him in our document, we just drag the him from the panel to our artboard.

Now we have two bears, and it was easy.

The Symbols Libraries

You do not have to create symbols if you do not want. However, it is an easy way to duplicate objects that you use or create. Illustrator offers plenty of built-in symbols that you can use as well. These are stored in the Symbols Libraries.

To access the libraries, click the libraries button at the bottom left corner of the Symbols panel, .

You will then see the different categories of symbols.

You can select a category to see the different symbols within the category. We have selected Nature.

To move a symbol from the library to the Symbols panel, simply click on it. It then appears in the panel.

Delete Symbols

As well as creating symbols, you can also delete them.

To delete a symbol, click on it in the panel, and then click the delete button. It looks like this, . It is located at the bottom of the panel.

You would not be able to delete it if you have instances in your document.

If you do not have any instances, confirm that you want to delete it.

Create a Symbols Library

In addition to creating individual symbols, you can also create your own library.

Put the symbols that you want to save in your library in the Symbols panel. Get rid of any that you do not want to save to your library.

Next, go to the Symbols Libraries button, click it, and select Save Symbols from the dropdown menu.

Enter a name for the library, then click Save.

Duplicate and Edit Existing Symbols

As well as creating new symbols and using the Symbols Libraries, you can also duplicate an existing symbol, edit it to make changes, and then use the new version as a symbol too.

First, select the symbol that you want to duplicate in the Symbols panel. We were going to select the bug from the Symbols panel.

Click and drag the symbol to the New Symbol button.

There are now two instances of the symbol in the Symbols panel.

Next, click the Symbol Options button .

Set your options and click OK.

The two symbols are still identical. If you want to edit the new symbol, drag it to an artboard.

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Now click Break Link to Symbol in the Symbols panel.

You can now edit the symbol.

Editing a Symbol

To edit a symbol, double click the symbol in the Symbols panel that you want to edit. Do not click the name in the library. Double click the actual symbol in the panel.

The symbol is now isolated in your document.

A gray bar appears above the document area that lets you know that you have the symbol in what is called Isolation Mode so you can edit it.

Now, make the changes that you want to the symbol.

Click the arrow in the gray bar to exit Isolation Mode.

Using the Symbol Sprayer Tool

Think of the Symbol Sprayer as a paint sprayer. You can spray multiple instances of a symbol onto an artboard at once. Then, all the instances that you spray will be grouped together in a bounding box so that you can move or resize the box.

To use the Symbol Sprayer, go to the toolbox. The Symbol Sprayer looks like this,

Select the symbol from the panel that you want to use, and then click the Symbol Sprayer.

Now, you can hold down your mouse to spray unlimited instances of the symbol onto your document.

In addition, you can just click on the artboard where you want the symbol to be.

When symbols are grouped together in a bounding box, like shown above, it is called a symbol set.

The Symbol Shifter Tool

The Symbol Shifter tool lets you alter the attributes of a symbol set.

The Symbol Shifter tool is grouped with the Symbol Sprayer tool. It looks like this, .

Select the symbol set, then click on the Symbol Shifter tool

Drag to shift the direction of the instances inside the symbol set.

Here is our before picture.

Here is our after picture.

The Symbol Sizer Tool

The Symbol Sizer tool lets you resize instances of a symbol within the set. It looks like this, .

To use it, click on the Symbol Sizer tool, and then click or drag the tool over an instance of a symbol within a set.

The Symbol Spinner Tool

The Symbol Spinner tool lets you change the orientation of an instance within a symbol set.

Click on the tool, and then click on a symbol instance. You will see directional arrows.

Adjust the symbol's orientation, and then release the mouse.

All the symbol tools work with your symbol sets in the same way. They just offer different results and effects.

The Other Symbol Tools

The other symbol tools are as listed.

The Symbol Stainer Tool allows you to recolor individual symbols within a set. The tool looks like this,

The Symbol Screener Tool lets you make symbol instances more transparent.

The Symbol Styler Tool allows you to apply graphics styles to instances.

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Outputting Your Work

Saving Your Work

All documents and files that you save in Illustrator are automatically saved in Illustrator format, or AI. However, you have several options when saving your work.

If you just want to save your work in Illustrator format so that you can come back later and work on it, go to File>Save. Illustrator will save it under its current name, or give it the default Adobe file name "Untitled-1" if it's the first untitled file you have saved. Otherwise, it might be Untitled-2 or Untitled-3, and so on.

If you want to name or rename your file, or save it in another format (other than AI), go to File>Save As.

First, choose the location on your computer where you want to save the file in the Save In field.

Next, you can enter a name for your file.

You can also specify the type of file that you want it to save as in the Save As Type field.

Here are your choices.

  • FXG is Flash XML graphics and is often used for movies.
  • PDF stands for Portable Document Format. You have probably viewed PDFs before in Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader. This is for graphics and text files.
  • Illustrator EPS is a vector based file. It stands for Encapsulated Post Script. Vectors can easily be modified and edited.
  • Illustrator template means that you are saving your work as a template.
  • SVG is a scalable vector graphics file.
  • SVG compressed is a compressed scalable vector graphics file.

    Exporting Your Work

    You can export files to other file formats and programs, as well. Go to File>Export.

    Choose where you want to save the exported file, just as we did with Save As.

    Enter a name for the file in the File Name Field.

    Then select the type.

    You will then be taken to export options. We have shown the options for AutoCAD below.

    If you do not know the options that you want to use, you can use Illustrator's default options, and then click OK. However, if you are exporting to a file, you should know the options that you need based on the file you have created.

    Save for Web and Devices

    To save your files for the web or mobile devices, go to File>Save for Web.

    Above is the Save for Web options window.

    The first thing you have to decide is if you want to view the pages that you are going to save as Original, Optimized, or 2-Up. This allows you to view the document in different layouts.

    Now, click one of the sample images to change its format. Our sample image above is in GIF format, as highlighted in red below:

    Click the downward arrow in the Preset category and select a new format from the options.

    Now click the Optimized File Format downward arrow and select one of the options, GIF, JPEG, PNG-8, or PNG-24.

    You can use the Image Size section to change the image's height and width. You can also make other image adjustments.

    In addition, use the Color Table section that is available for GIF and PNG-8 formats to add, subtract, or edit colors.

    Click Save when you are finished.

    Enter a name for the file, as well as the location to save it. Then click Save.

    Printing Your Work

    To print your document go to File>Print. You will see the Print Options window, as shown below.

    First, go to the Print Preset downward arrow, and select a preset.

    Then, go to the Printer list downward arrow. Choose the printer that you want to use.

    Now click the PPD list. Select a PPD if one is available. A PPD is a PostScript Printer Description.

    Next, select a print category, General, Marks and Bleed, Output, Graphics, Color Management, or Advanced. These choices appear on the left.

    Set your print options for each category by clicking on a category.

    General is shown below.

    If we click on Marks and Bleed, the options for Marks and Bleed are displayed.

    You can use the navigation buttons to preview the pages to print.

    If you move your mouse over the document in the Print options window, the Hand tool will appear and you can move the document around.

    When you are finished selecting options, click Print.